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Quake Drill Success

3/31/2008 12:00 AM

Observers from as far away as California turned out to watch Texas Task Force 1 respond to a mock earthquake at Disaster City over the weekend.

The 10, who are members of similar search-and-escue teams from across the United States, rated the group on objectives established prior to the exercise, organizers said.

"On a casual basis, the observers have told us that they were pleased with our performance," said Bob McKee, director of both the task force and Texas Engineering Extension Service's urban search-and-rescue division.

The Texas Task Force 1, which is operated by TEEX, staged the catastrophe as part of its annual full-scale training exercise at Disaster City, a 52-acre simulation course in College Station. Each year, the mock scenario changes to keep rescuers on guard, organizers said.

"We have to be prepared for just about anything -- whether it's a collapse, an earthquake, hurricane, or if one of our neighboring states' calls," said McKee.

The Texas governor's division of emergency management or the Federal Emergency Management Agency can deploy the task force for search-and-rescue missions anywhere in Texas or the nation. Last year, the task force was deployed a record 16 times. Its missions included responses to a deadly tornado in Eagle Pass, flooding in the Texas Hill Country and Hurricane Dean.

About 150 volunteers turned out for the exercise, including Texas A&M University students and local residents, the Texas A&M Emergency Care Team, the task force search-and-rescue canine unit, the Bryan Fire Department and the Disaster Medical Assistance Team.

The disaster scenario kicked off Friday evening, when a high-impact earthquake struck the fictitious city, toppling buildings and displacing streams of distraught victims.

The A&M Emergency Care Team was first on the scene, conducting initial help for victims and calling in the task force.

Susann Brown, a search team manager for the training and canine coordinator for the task force, immediately sent her canine search-and-rescue force of six dogs into the field.

"The canine units serve as biological scent meters," Brown said. "They can narrow the search sector so task force members can continue the search with other technical tools. That way, they can extract victims as quickly as possible."

Search-and-rescue team members removed debris to recover victims, and DMAT, a small team of medical professionals, determined patients' status, said Brian Smith, public information officer for the task force.

The EMS, played Saturday by the care team and Sunday by the Bryan Fire Department, treated victims taken by rescue crews to a designated area away from the debris.

Two members of the London Fire Brigade watched rescue teams work the mock catastrophe. The brigade is considering signing an agreement with the task force for reciprocal training in which London officials could train and observe at Disaster City and task force officials could do the same in London.

Robert Binder, group manager for the brigade, said the city does not have a disaster training facility.

"In the last two years we [some representatives of the brigade] have come to TF1 to observe their process, and we worked with them on the Hurricane Dean deployment," Binder said.

McKee said observers of the mock disaster, mostly personnel from other task forces across the United States, gave feedback Sunday evening on the search-and-rescue team's performance and compared the goals set in advance. The team will receive more detailed word on its performance at an after-action review Monday.

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Kathy Fraser

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